Narrowing Your Interests in College

I came into Rice with a certain mindset and I know for sure I am leaving with a different mindset, both academically and personally. I came in wanting to major in Biochemistry, make a career out of science and medicine, and conduct biological research. Now as a junior in college, my intended pathway in life is different. I am majoring in Cognitive Sciences with a minor in Neuroscience and Medical Humanities, conducting qualitative bioethics research, and starting a 4+1 MPH program during my senior year into the next year after I graduate from Rice.

How did I change pathways over these past couple of years? I think the key is to be open-minded. I’ve talked about this before in one of my blog posts, but I cannot emphasize how important it is to explore your options. There is no better time than college to do that, and I guarantee you that it will be worthwhile.

I ended up choosing to major in Cognitive Sciences because it better reflected my love for Neuroscience. My transition began when I started taking more social science classes for my major. I became super interested in all of the interdisciplinary subjects. I remember thinking how intriguing the experiments my professors mentioned in class were and how worthwhile it would be if I conducted that kind of research (Rice certainly offered me those kinds of opportunities). Studying the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences all at once led me to apply for a qualitative research program at Rice during my sophomore year.

At the same time, I became super interested in public health and policy studies after participating in an education policy Alternative Spring Break and looking at the new medical humanities classes being offered at Rice. By then I had realized that studying STEM in college was not for me. I didn’t want to take classes with so many numbers and facts, but rather those where I could discuss ideas with my peers and do more direct work with advocacy.

The summer before my junior year I spent 2 months in Cape Town conducting a public health project. That experience led me to apply for and get into the 4+1 Rice-UT Houston Public Health Scholars Program, where you get your Masters in Public Health from Rice by taking graduate classes during your senior year and the year after you graduate.

I should also note that throughout college I had been grappling with whether or not I wanted to pursue medicine. Junior year, I started taking those medical humanities classes, including Medical Professionalism and Intro to Medical Humanities. Those classes covered some of the most interesting and thought-provoking topics in my college career. Now, I can safely say that I want to become a physician after I get my MPH.

I know that my transition isn’t necessarily the most life-changing. But my pathway wasn’t straightforward, and yours shouldn’t be either. I came in thinking that college is just a linear trail you take, pushing requirements out of the way and planning what you have to get done every year. Deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life takes time and effort, and you have to be willing to put in that time and effort to get the most out of college. During my time at Rice and the wonderful opportunities I’ve been offered along the way, I narrowed my interests into what I truly want to do. And who knows— maybe by my senior year of college I’ll discover more passions in my life.

Research at Rice

Coming into Rice, I definitely knew I wanted to do research here. I remember going to research panels as a “prospie” (prospective student) during Owl Days and hearing about all the wonderful opportunities and ways to start research here. Personally, I really wanted to work off-campus at the Texas Medical Center because I wanted to work in a clinical environment as a premed. I remember continuing to attend other research panels once I started going to Rice. These panels often advertised research opportunities or discussed ways to getting involved. There are emails that you can subscribe to that publicize research opportunities and other programs that you can apply to as well. I find that emailing the principal investigator (PI) of a lab you’re interested in is the most effective and worthwhile way to get involved in research. If the PI is interested in speaking with you, then you usually meet up at their lab and discuss the next steps.

This is how I found my first research opportunity. I worked at a lab in the Neurological Research Institute (NRI) at the medical center. I investigated the effects of certain gene splicing errors on the behavioral, physiological, and neurological components of fruit flies. My lab was another community I found at Rice, and I had my own project to work on independently on my own time. As much as I enjoyed the experience, I realized that this type of research was not for me. I wanted to do more social sciences research and not so much work in a wet lab environment.

Rice is right next to the medical center, which makes it super convenient for students who want to work there.

A year later, I had a new opportunity to be involved in the Health, Humanism, and Society Scholars Program at Rice’s School of Social Sciences. This program allows students to work on medical humanities research at Texas Medical Center schools. I am still involved in this research now and it has been one of the most interesting and unique experiences I’ve had thus far at Rice. I am studying the moral, ethical, and legal implications of genomics at the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy. A lot of the work I do is on my computer, coding interviews, writing up literature reviews, and researching case studies. I don’t have to go to the medical center as often, which makes it much more convenient for me. As I’m moving forward with my research, I’m excited (but also a bit nervous!) to present at the Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium this coming April. Not only has this research made me learn new skills and turned me into a more inquisitive and analytical student, but I’ve also realized what my academic interest are. In addition to wanting to go to medical school one day, I also want to go to grad school to study public health.

A lot of people, like me, don’t always stay with the same lab during their four years here. Sometimes it can take a while to find a lab that suits your interests and schedule. Regardless of what kind of research you do, it is a time commitment and you will get the most out of the experience if you put enough effort into it. For example, if you do research for credit, you usually need to put in 9-10 hours a week (equivalent to a 3-credit class at rice). Students can also get paid for their research, which can be extremely rewarding.

Research isn’t for everyone, but if you are slightly interested, I encourage you to try it out. It’s also important to note that at Rice you can do research in all sorts of subjects (sociology, engineering, science, history, etc), so don’t be discouraged to get involved just because you don’t think your major suits it. Just because you’re in a certain major does not mean you can’t do research in another subject area. The kind of research you want to do is super flexible, so I encourage you to take advantage of that. Research has developed me into a more well-rounded and mature individual who is more prepared to take on the real world.

Branching Out with Classes

As fall semester is coming towards an end and spring class registration is underway, classes are on everyone’s mind right now, including mine. We all go to college to take classes, and they really make up a large part of your overall Rice experience. Choosing the right classes can be a stressful but important component of the Rice experience.

Luckily, Rice has plenty of resources if students need guidance. Fifty percent of Rice’s orientation week consists of academics and class planning, so you will definitely not be lost coming into college. Throughout the rest of the year, each residential college has Peer Academic Advisors (PAAs) who are there to help you plan your schedule based on your major, fulfill graduation requirements, and ask about any important deadlines or academic opportunities. As a PAA for Wiess College, I’ve found my role quite fulfilling because I have my own group of new students with similar interests to mine to help with academic planning in addition to my general role as an advisor for everyone else.

When I came into Rice, I had a general idea of what I wanted to major in but I wasn’t completely sure. Thankfully, the resources I had from the Office of Academic Advising (oaa.rice.edu) and my PAAs were instrumental in my decision to change my major from Biochemistry to Cognitive Sciences. Through the major and the suggestion from PAAs to take classes that interest me, I’ve discovered and re-aligned my academic interests from a natural sciences background to more social science subjects (psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy). With Rice’s requirement to take 12 hours from each distribution (Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences & Engineering), students have the opportunity to explore beyond their majors. I know many people who switch majors or change their career plans because they unexpectedly became interested in a distribution class and wanted to further pursue the major associated with the class. Additionally, there are so many interesting classes for students to take, like an English and Biology combined class titled “Monsters,” a class about managing large cities taught by former Houston mayor Annise Parker, or a class formatted like the reality TV show “Survivor.” It’s also great because you get so much feedback from other upperclassmen who give useful advice about which classes to take in addition to the OAA and PAAs.

One of the main purposes of college is to explore your options and really find your passions, whether that be academic or non-academic. I’m thankful that I found what I’m truly interested in, and there’s no doubt you will too when you come to Rice.

Meeting a Rice Alumnus Halfway Across the World

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Repping Rice at Table Mountain, one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World.

As much as Rice is a smaller campus compared to other universities, this summer I learned how large-scale and wide-reaching Rice can be. I spent the summer doing a public health internship in Cape Town, South Africa as an International Ambassador for the Rice Gateway Program. The purpose of the program is to connect Rice students beyond their internships and gain perspectives from other professionals in their setting through interviews. One part of the program required me to interview a Rice alumnus who is living in the same city that I was in the summer. Surprisingly, Rice connected me with a Rice School of Architecture 1979 graduate. After getting in contact with her through email, I was able to visit her architecture studio in Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town. As much as I was nervous interviewing my first subject in South Africa, she completely eased my worries and made me feel very much at home. Though I learned a lot about South African history and her academic and personal story while interviewing her, I also bonded a lot with her through Rice. Even though I was in a completely unfamiliar setting miles away by myself, she made me feel right at home in an unexpected way. It was so refreshing to talk to someone who loves Rice and its quirks just like I do. After the visit was over, we both agreed to keep each other updated and catch up with lunch in Cape Town before I left.

Right after my interview (the first of many meetings) with her!

One month after our first encounter, I visited her beautiful house in Cape Town when she invited me over for lunch with her family. She was nice enough to not only be a source of contact for me whenever I needed support in Cape Town, but she also wanted to maintain our relationship beyond my time in South Africa.

Through the Gateway Program, I was able to generate more significant relationships with my coworkers, local professors, and Rice alumni in a new country. My internship experience would not have been the same without it; it would have been more daunting to suddenly live in a different country for 2 months without learning from such interesting South Africans. I think that’s what Rice really values for its students—meaningful relationships from its close-knit community both on campus and beyond the hedge. I’m someone who really values interpersonal relationships, and Rice has certainly not disappointed me in that category. It amazes me to learn where so many alumni end up going all around the world, but I know that wherever I’ll go after I graduate my fellow Rice students will be there to support me.

Coincidentally, I ended up sitting in the same aisle as her on my flight when I went back home. Maybe Rice isn’t so small after all.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Outside of your Comfort Zone

Rice has a bunch of students that all come from different places— from neighboring towns in Houston to foreign countries across the globe. Nevertheless, we all amalgamate together on campus and bring special diversity to the undergraduate student population. In my case, I hail from the state of New Jersey, just a meager 1,607 miles away from Rice. Whenever I mention that I’m from New Jersey, people never hesitate to ask the token follow-up question: “So why did you decide to come to Rice and live in Texas?” As much as I understand why they ask me, over time I’ve realized that the question implies that most people don’t choose to attend a university far away from home without an explicitly good reason.

My token answer to the token question? I wanted to go to Rice because of the amazing community they have with the residential colleges, its proximity to the largest medical center in the world, and its unique social and cultural environment. Additionally, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, with a myriad of great opportunities (academic and non-academic) for college and beyond. I feel like that answer very much justifies itself, but many people still ask me why I wanted to move so far away. Yes, I don’t get to see my friends and family as often, but I do not regret exploring and going out of my comfort zone in a new environment. From my perspective, I’ve had some of the most unique experiences living in Houston, whether that be cultural experiences from living in Texas to academic experiences from interning at special organizations here. I’m someone who can struggle with change, but lately I’ve become more open to saying yes to new things because they are usually the most rewarding. And going to Rice is a prime example of its benefits.

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Houston has so many cool attractions to visit with friends! This is Discovery Green, and they had a cool interactive exhibit this past March.

I’m not saying that it’s better to go farther away from home, but you shouldn’t limit your options. There are many factors to consider (like finances and family), but I think that I made the right choice going to school here. At Rice, I’ve been exposed to such a unique culture within the diverse campus and beyond. Even though Texas is a new environment for me, Rice makes me feel like I very much belong here. Besides, I’m not the only New Jerseyian or Northeasterner here. I’ve befriended many other students who come from the same area as me. There are still internship and job opportunities connected to Rice that are located throughout the country (including where I’m from), so my college experience is not limited to Houston.

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The MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) is super close to Rice. And the best part is that Rice students get in for free!

To any student who lives far away from Texas and is considering Rice: keep in mind that going beyond what you’re comfortable with can yield some of the most worthwhile experiences. And the best part about living far away from school? The trip back home is 100 times more special.

The OC Life

When many people think of a college experience, they tend to imagine a bunch of students living together in dormitories and sharing communal bathrooms. But there are also Rice students who live off-campus. There are many students who choose to live off-campus for various reasons (their family lives close by, it’s cheaper, etc.), but there are also some students who live off-campus for a year because of housing constraints. Rice has 11 residential colleges with different living systems and cultures, and each college has different requirements for when students live off-campus (students at Rice are typically guaranteed on-campus housing for three of their four years, but many get to live on-campus for all four years). At my college, Wiess College, sophomores usually live off-campus.

As a current OC student, I’ve gotten used to a lot of lifestyle changes at college, but many of them are for the better. Overall I can say that being off-campus has allowed me to become more independent, manage my time better, organize my day-to-day plans, and become more prepared for the real life ahead of me. Let me be a little bit more specific.

I currently live in a house with four other friends. The house is super close to Rice and is in one of the safest neighborhoods in Houston. It’s a 7-minute walking distance and a 3-minute biking distance from Rice’s campus. So in a sense, I’m living as close as I can to being on-campus. But because I don’t have the wonderful Rice housing and dining staff taking care of me in my own house, I have adult responsibilities. Now I make my own food occasionally, so I have to buy groceries. Each of us in the house has chores to do on a routine basis, so I have to take out the trash twice a week. I have to wash dishes, and clean up after myself in the kitchen. Because biking back home takes a while, I have to make sure that I bring all of my books and other miscellaneous items that I need for the day. Especially when there’s a special event at night, I have to make sure that everything is accounted for. On a typical weekday when I have class, I eat breakfast at home, bike to classes, have lunch and dinner on campus, do work either at my residential college or at the library, and then bike back home to sleep. Sometimes I go back home early to get more quiet time and settle down in my work. On the weekends, however, I usually choose not to go on campus unless I have meetings on campus.

A lot of people ask me whether or not I like living off-campus. I think that there are pros and cons to the entire experience. It can be rather inconvenient if you’re involved in on-campus activities, but overall I’m glad that I’m doing it.

Here are my favorite parts of living off-campus:

  1. You’re better prepared for the real world. (Cause let’s be honest, college doesn’t really prepare you for independent living.)
  2. There’s always a place for you to get away from everyone and be in your own sanctuary.
  3. $!! Living off-campus is cheaper than living on campus (mainly because you do not have to get the full meal plan, and you can often find a place to live with cheap rent).
  4. More food options! You can buy different types of meal plans or just use tetra points on your student ID card as a form of currency. Rice has a solid selection of other places to buy food.
  5. You get sympathy points from everyone living on campus!

Even if you don’t want to live off-campus, many students who are in my year still ended up getting rooms last year; in fact, I got offered a room on-campus but already made off-campus plans. Either way, I’m grateful for my time as an off-campus student, but I’m definitely looking forward to moving back on next year!